Outdoor dust occurs throughout Washington, but in dry areas like Eastern Washington, dust is a significant air
pollution problem. If you live in Eastern Washington, you have probably experienced dust storms. From spring
through fall, high winds in the Columbia Plateau region can combine with dry weather conditions to disturb farm
fields and other areas with disturbed soils resulting in dust storms. These dust storms can lead to extremely high
levels of particle air pollution.
Current News and Information
Final Exceptional Event Report Submitted
Three unusual thunderstorms created strong winds and dust in Eastern Washington in 2013. The storms overwhelmed
agriculture erosion controls and caused air pollution from dust to exceed federal standards. Ecology’s report shows that the dust
storms were “Exceptional Events” and is asking EPA to leave out the values from these events when determining
compliance with air quality standards.
Final Report: 2013 Exceptional Event Demonstration: PM10 Exceedances
due to High Winds at Kennewick, Publication 15-02-18
Final Report: Frequently Asked Questions
Ecology submitted this demonstration in January 2016. Ecology accepted comments from September 3 to October 5,
2015. There were two comments. See
Appendix J for Response to Comments.
EPA will notify us of their decision. If they agree with us, these exceedances will be left out of compliance calculations.
EPA will consider comments made on the demonstration when a regulatory decision is made based on the data being excluded.
The decision is not final until that time.
Watch the Webinar
held August 13, 2015
Your Health and Dust
Dust is made up of tiny particles (particulate matter.) The smallest particles, known as
PM10 and PM2.5, are too small to be filtered out by your nose and your body's
other natural defense systems. Dust with these fine particles is inhaled deep into your lungs
where they cause increased problems with:
- lung irritation
- heart disease
- allergic reactions
- other serious conditions that can lead to death
Who should take special precautions?
Breathing too much dust can potentially harm anyone. However, the following
groups are at the highest risk:
- Infants, children, teens, the elderly, and pregnant women
- People with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or other respiratory conditions
- People with heart disease
- Healthy adults working or exercising outdoors (for example, agricultural workers,
construction workers, and runners)
How to protect yourself and others
Since small dust particles are the most harmful, the best precaution is simply
to avoid going outside when there is a lot of dust in the air.
If you must go out:
- spend as little time outside as possible
- Avoid hard exercise
- Wear some type of covering over your nose and mouth
- staying out of areas of dust
- When driving, be alert for sudden changes in visibility and pull over if you have trouble seeing.
Dust Storm Warnings and Notices
Sometimes its possible to know that a dust storm may occur. Most dust storms happen in the spring
or fall, because of a combination of high winds, dry weather conditions, and uncovered fields.
The National Weather Service announces high wind warnings, so your local news may be able to warn you
in advance when conditions are ripe for a dust storm. You can sign up to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts
about high wind warnings from the National Weather Service (visit
for more information). The best thing to do is always be prepared.
How to Prepare for Dust Storms
Windblown dust cant be completely controlled or avoided, but there are some things you can do to protect
yourself during a dust storm. Be ready to stay inside and close your windows, vents, and doors, and plug
drafts. If you have allergies or breathing problems, ask your health care provider or local health department
what they recommend. If they suggest wearing a mask during a dust storm, buy some and keep them on hand.
If dust is a serious health problem for you, your health care provider may advise you to be ready to leave
the area during a dust storm.
Reduce Your Risk from Dust Storms
There are some things we can do to prevent windblown dust; but even our best efforts can be overwhelmed
by drought and high winds. Farmers prevent and reduce dust by using less intensive tilling methods and planting
cover crops that hold the soil in place. Dust controls at construction sites include working in phases to minimize
the amount of exposed land area, and using dust suppressants or gravel on bare ground. Contact your local clean air
agency or city or county planning department if there is a dust problem in your area. Big dust storms cant be
prevented, but throughout Washington, Ecology and our partners monitor air quality to measure amounts of pollution
in the air. This helps pinpoint areas with levels of pollution that could cause health problems so we can work
toward reducing and controlling pollution.
Ecology monitors the air for dust in many areas of Washington. Monitors track air quality to find out if
areas meet national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS.)
When an exceptional event, like a thunderstorm, causes fine particle
pollution to exceed the federal air pollution standards Ecology reports
this to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Others Who Help Manage Dust
Local governments, the Environmental Protection Agency and others are also part of managing outdoor dust:
- Local air agencies and city planning departments enforce rules
that require dust control.
- The federal Clean Air Act requires EPA to review NAAQS (standards) every 5 years to make sure the
standards protect human health and the environment. The standards must protect groups of people who are
most at risk from air pollution.
- Farmers help by using voluntary practices that stabilize their fields to preserve soil and keep dirt from
leaving their farms. See
Natural Resource Conservation Service
Outdoor Dust Categories
Dust is categorized three ways:
- Windblown dust
- Tilled, harvested, and fallow farm fields
- Natural areas during highest winds
- While work is underway
- Cleared and vacant land
- Paved and unpaved roads
- Activities on vacant land or disturbed areas
- Unpaved parking lots and equipment yards
- Military training exercises
An exceptional event is an unusual or naturally-occurring event that can affect air quality,
but cannot be reasonably controlled. Under air pollution laws, exceptional events are regulated
differently than other sources of air pollution. For example, if a storm causes monitor readings to
go over the federal limit and EPA agrees the reading was beyond our control, the high reading may be
considered an exceptional event. The high reading then would not count when determining if an area
meets the NAAQS standard.
For more information about dust control, contact your Local air agency.